As widely reported, American Airlines announced an industry record aircraft order yesterday for 460 jets spread across Boeing and Airbus. American’s tweets came alive in the morning and I clicked through one and watched part of the live stream from a Dallas Admirals Club where American’s Chairman & CEO Gerard Arpey made the formal announcement with Airbus & Boeing executives flanking his sides. The carrier will introduce Airbus A319 and A321 aircraft beginning in 2013 along with adding additional next generation Boeing 737s to their fleet. In addition to eliminating MD80s, the eventual retirement of American’s 757s and 767-200s was also mentioned, and for a more descriptive breakdown of the order, check out AAdvantageGeek’s posting today.
Also yesterday, American announced a $286 million loss for the second quarter of 2011, worse than analysts had anticipated and an unfavorable signal pointing to dismal full year results. According to an article by Terry Maxon appearing in the Los Angeles Times on July 1st, airline analysts claim AMR Corporation “will lose more than $600 million in 2011 and more than $100 million next year.” This while Delta and United are predicted to post profits of $1.2 & $1.3 billion respectively this year, with both carriers likely earning $1.7 billion in 2012. How long can American continue to hemorrhage money like this? No wonder they were first at bat in the attempt to shake up the distribution model whose annual expense for an airline is near the top after direct operating costs.
Next up, the Irish Times reported yesterday that American is planning to close its Dublin Ireland reservations center where approximately 130 employees currently man the facility that has been around for the past 15 years. The carrier informed the Irish Communication Workers Union and is now in “a period of consultation to discuss a proposal to outsource the work to an offshore location.” No disrespect, but I’m hoping offshore from Ireland means those jobs will come back to the U.S.
Finally, according to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), American Airlines has clarified its policy on transporting non-human primates (monkeys) to outright ban the acceptance of such animals intended for “laboratory research, experimentation or exploitation purposes.” Very welcome news and how sad to think that some airlines still accept monkeys for this purpose. Only one U.S. airline remains on BUAV’s list of carriers that “do or would” fly primates destined for the research industry. Eh hem… paging Continental Airlines. I will follow up this post with a direct inquiry to United to see if they’re even aware Continental is on the list.
Now that I have several Continental Airlines flights in both first class & coach under my belt, I’ve developed a list of service-related items I’d like to see in the combined carrier. These are in no particular order and are only comparing Continental and United Airlines on domestic flights.
- Boarding Process: United. Continental’s procedure offers boarding to first class and active duty service members first, followed by all passengers entitled to elite access. I think they board then by row number after that, but I have always been in the first or second group. United further divides the elite tiers and allows Global Services and 1Ks to board ahead of Premier Executives who board ahead of Premiers, etc. While I don’t see many flights in coach, I’m down with United’s process in sectioning the elites to ensure someone who flies 89,000 miles annually boards ahead of someone who flies just 26,000.
- Pre-departure beverages in First Class: Continental. While boarding is still in process, the flight attendants on Continental swim up and down the aisle taking full drink orders for first class passengers. You have your beverage of choice generally longer while sitting at the gate on Continental vs. the usual water or orange juice offering on United. Sometimes I’ve been turned down on United when asking for a coke, etc. The horror!
- Table Linens in First Class: United. Really no comparison here as Continental doesn’t put a linen down on the tray before your meal. Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not, but it offers a touch more class and might keep the tray from sliding in turbulence.
- Meals in First Class: Continental. I believe Continental operates their own catering company, but whoever does it is winning this category in my opinion. Maybe I’m just absolutely tired of United’s meals (except the newer chicken & pasta salad snack!), but both the lunches and dinners I’ve had on Continental have tasted better, and seem plated with more care by the flight attendants. Why does Continental win lunch flights especially? Two words… Angus cheeseburger.
- Prioritizing meal choices in First Class: United. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but Continental doesn’t seem to prioritize meals by status, but rather from front to back of the first class cabin. Not earth shattering, but I appreciate always getting my first choice as a 1K on United.
- First Class seats: United. Admittedly United did just recently refresh the seating on the domestic fleet to all leather, but they just seem to be firmer and more comfortable. While the headrest sits uncomfortably low against your shoulders for takeoff/landing, it pivots and shapes more securely than Continental’s. I dare say the leather is higher quality, too.
- Nuts in First Class: United. Not other passengers, no, but rather the edible kind like cashews, almonds and the like. United serves them warm (most of the time) in a ceramic ramekin, whereas Continental gives a pre-packaged bag of nuts (like what you used to get in coach).
- In-Flight Entertainment: Continental. While not on 100% of the fleet, Continental’s live DirecTV offering 95+ channels absolutely wins hands down. United’s entertainment isn’t bad, per se, but if you fly with any frequency in the same month you often have nothing new to watch.
- Glassware/Stemware in First Class: United. How petty of me, I know, but I prefer United’s glassware. The bowls are larger for all types of glasses on United, and the wine glasses (now) provide proper stems. Nothing wrong with Continentals, so this is just a matter of personal preference. I also have a collection of airline glassware, so perhaps I’m a bit snooty in this area.
- Hot towel service in First Class: Continental. Again rather petty, but Continental’s towels are more like durable wash cloths vs. United’s one-use throw away 5-thread count mini-towelettes that practically disintegrate when using.
- Meal offering in Coach: Continental. Okay, they’re actually very similar now, but Continental still offers four snack boxes, plus that Angus cheeseburger is offered for sale, so I have to go with the meat. I may be in the minority, but United’s snack boxes are trying too hard to be fancier thereby increasing the price points and likely net proceeds.
- Economy class seats: Continental. Continental’s seats in coach feel more comfortable to my rump and seem to have more padding overall. Also, the headrest is more substantial and actually contorts & shapes better than their first class model.
- Boeing 737s/Airbus A320s: Okay, there can’t be a comparison here as United no longer has 737s and Continental never had A320s, but I’m an Airbus guy. They seem quieter and roomier from the inside, and from the outside I prefer the overall appearance of the A320. The 737 sits too low to the ground and the engine cowling shape is abnormal for my strange & dorky aesthetic taste.
So, what do you think… what would you like to see in the combined carrier?
I flew through Denver yesterday and was able to see with my own eyes for the first time a couple of United Airlines aircraft painted in the new colors. I’m not talking about Continental airplanes pulled into the shop, stripped of the Continental name and repainted in the UNITED font, but rather genuine United registered aircraft having gone through the “transition.”
As I noted here during my trip up to the United Airlines Friends & Family Day at the San Francisco Maintenance Center, I’m actually a fan of the Continental globe/bingo cage/colors, so I was genuinely happy to see these airplanes. (Side note to United’s management, however: Please find some way to incorporate the tulip into the new identity. Perhaps an eventual rollout of a new livery, a watermark in the new frequent flyer program’s membership card, etc.)
Here are United’s birds featuring the NEW United Airlines identity. An Airbus A320-232 built in 1994, C/N (construction number) 489, United’s plane N420UA; and a Boeing 757-222 built in 1989, C/N 24624, United’s plane N503UA.
Airbus A320-232 N420UA
Boeing 727-222 N503UA